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J.J Rousseau's View of the State of Nature Is Superior to That of Hobbes

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Started: 7/10/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,625 times Debate No: 58756
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This debate will be about whose view of the State of Nature is better, Hobbes or Rousseau. I affirm that Rousseau's is superior.

If you do not know the ins and outs of each of these positions please DO NOT VOTE ON THIS DEBATE. Since this is a debate and not a political philosophy lecture we will not cover the topics in much depth outside of the purview of the debate. I trust my opponent knows these topics well.

First Round - Acceptance
Second Round - Opening Arguments
Third Round - Rebuttal
Fourth Round - Conclusion/Wrap Up

Good luck.


I accept. GL and HF!
Debate Round No. 1


ConservativePolitico forfeited this round.


Since my opponent has forfeited, I shall present my arguments, hoping the opponent comes back. Note that the BoP in this debate is shared, and that my BoP will be solely on proving the Hobbesian view of the state of nature.

Four centuries ago, scholar Thomas Hobbes wrote a compelling book called “Leviathan: Or The Matter, Form(e) and Power of a Commonwealth” In writing it, he gave birth to modern political philosophy; written during the most turbulent times of modern British history, it outlined the need for an absolute figure.

In this, he gave birth to several new theories, but most notably, the social contract and the state of nature theory. The social contract theory may be discussed in another day, but the state of nature theory is what we have to consider.


The State of Nature theory: is a hypothetical state that men live in common with each other; in modern terms called anarchy. The state of nature does not have to be an actual historical epoch.

The Hobbesian View: The Hobbesian view is pessimistic, stating that life in a state of nature would be brutish, nasty and short, because humans would only be concerned with one’s own survival. In De Cive, he also added that this usually resulted in a “war of all against all” This view is similar to the view of sin nature; they are both pessimistic, and state that the state is the only way to counter this.

Rosseau’s View: Rosseau stated that humans in a state of nature are innocent beings. It states that humans are clay of society; that humans were born fearful of each other, and that this isolation keeps them from having conflicts.

With these two differing philosophical views defined, we move on to our arguments.

1R1NC: Chimpanzee Social Behavior

The question first arises: why chimpanzees? Why not other primates? This may be answered with this; in evolutionary biology, chimpanzees are perhaps our cousins. A “National Geographic” study shows that the 96% of the DNAs present in the human body had a similar genome to the chimpanzee. This genetic similarity brings us closer to chimps than rats to mice. [1] With the usage of Chimps justified, we may take an insight into what life looked like before the civilized state was created.

Chimpanzee life is brutish, short and nasty; we take the short part into account first, by stating that a chimp’s life is normally only 40-45 years, if they survive their infancy. Many chimpanzees have a habit of killing their newly born infants. This salvage habit is barely present in humans (except for liberals who advocate for the womb to be killed as an act of individualism). The brutish and nasty part comes from the fact that civilized society is non-existent in the Chimpanzee Kingdom. The Chimpanzee Society is divided into several subgroups; each subgroup is called a unit, and may contain from 40-60 chimpanzees. However, it seems that apart from family interactions, they live in mutually fearful conditions from each other. [2]

Apart from this, one of the first non-human warfare was observed in chimpanzee societies; in 1974, an interunit war erupted which saw individual chimps from one unit killing all the chimpanzees of the other unit. This goes hand in hand with the Hobbesian description of the state of “war of all against all” i.e everyone can and will wage war upon each other for their own sake.

This chimpanzee war was allegedly caused by a result of internal divisions between the chimps; observed at a national park in Kenya, this war was both bloody and brutal. After the death of an alpha-male chimp, the divisions between the northern and southern groups of the chimps became apparent. After some violence, authority was briefly installed. This demonstrates how the society could come to submit to a government. The alpha male is like the “president” as he leads the unit. Another chimp, Humphrey, soon became the alpha-male. However, his rule was weak, and soon, the south and the north was at “war” again. However this, Humphrey’s loyalist supporters carried out a systematic campaign of extermination against the chimps that betrayed Humphrey. [3]

While gruesome and dramatic, this showed what pre-human societies were like; salvage, brutish, nasty, short, and violent. This also showed that Rosseau’s view is invalid, as he states that men are not complicated and social enough (in the state of nature) to be wage wars on each other.

1R2NC: Leaders and War

In his Leviathan, Hobbes made two specific references. Firstly, he referenced rulers and war. This was more or less an analogy which was much more practical in Hobbes’ time rather than ours (with the rise of the United Nations and other forms of international alliances).

During the 18th century, leaders had the free will to do anything accordingly to their desires. Personal jealousies and feuds often ended in wars; the Wars of the Roses, the Spanish Civil War, and World War One are only some examples of wars caused by a leader’s own intent and greed.

According to Hobbes, he stated that:

in all times kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators, having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbours, which is a posture of war.

What Hobbes attempts to prove here is the notion of the war of all against all. Leaders, in the 17th century and right up until the 19th century, used armies to serve at their own will. They wage war upon other leaders because of three reasons. According to Hobbes:

In the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. [4]

Diffidence is generally known as self-protection; a pre-emptive strike against an enemy before they get too powerful. An example of this is Operation Barbarossa; Hitler recognized that if he waited for one more year, any operation into Russia would have been immensely unsuccessful, therefore launching it before the enemy could get stronger.

Competition is more imperialist in manner; competition is the invasion of any other country for one own gain. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia is an example of this; with no other need but to gain lands, often unjustifiably from people, for the sake of one’s own nation, is perhaps why Mussolini invaded Ethiopia.

Glory is self explanatory; to gain glory and honor from invading and waging war on each other. Such was the case during the pre-Tokugawa Shogunate, when Japanese warlords waged war on each other to gain glory and recognition, as well as land. The Crusades also takes account of this; to gain Holy Glory was the most honored ends for the Crusaders.

Throughout history, we can see many cases of the state of nature being practiced by leaders of the world; so many that we could conclude that the state of nature a condition of a war of all against all.

1R3NC: “The Salvage Tribes in North America”

This argument in no way represents my view on Native Americans.

This was the last reference that Hobbes made in his book to prove the State of Nature. According to Hobbes, the “salvages” that inhibit “North America” live in brutish and nasty condition. This was because of the lack of civil government. Hobbes’ salvages, however, only refer to tribes in North America, like the Iroquois and the Cherokee, not Aztecs, Mayans and Incans (in this case, all three developed a form of centralized coercive government which allowed them to develop faster than the Iroquois).

Hobbes stated that:

It may peradventure be thought there was never such a time nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the concord whereof dependeth on natural lust, have no government at all, and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common power to fear, by the manner of life which men that have formerly lived under a peaceful government use to degenerate into a civil war.

It is unclear whether Hobbes had a sufficient understanding of Native American organization, but he clearly adopted a view of a Social Darwinist. To understand why the Native Americans were thought by Hobbes to be living in the brutish state of nature, one must understand the “social lives” of these tribes.

Speaking strictly of the Iroquois tribe, they did not have any form of centralized government. Although they were organized into some sort of confederacy, all decisions of each tribal unit was decided by a council, who directed all happenings in the tribal unit. And even this council barely had control of the individual; the private enforcement of crime was the only way for justice to be imposed upon the individual. Efforts to gather lifestock and food were individual efforts, not communal or societal ones. [4]

Life was brutish in the sense that these tribes often went to war with each other; the Cherokee tribe launched an attack on northern migrants with no apparent reason but for glory and diffidence. Life was also nasty in the sense that it was a society where all man was for himself; there was no division of labor. All men were “salvage hunters” who would hunt for food at their own will. This was life in the state of nature; a brutish and nasty life, not an asocial life.

CONCLUSION: The resolution is therefore negated.






Debate Round No. 2


ConservativePolitico forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


ConservativePolitico forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by ConservativePolitico 7 years ago
Posted by Kc1999 7 years ago
10,000 characters please?
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by 9spaceking 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: ff
Vote Placed by lannan13 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture
Vote Placed by Romanii 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: fuhfuh

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